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Posts from the ‘Sunshine flavours’ Category

Tzatziki to have with everything 

It’s hot hot hot out there isn’t it? So hot, all I want to eat is cucumber and watermelon, cooking is barely on the agenda. So for days like this I want a bowl of cool tzatziki in the fridge, ready to have a flatbread dunked into it or to be dolloped over a salad. It somehow adds richness whilst still being refreshing, and turns odds and ends from the fridge into a little summer feast.

I remember the first time I went to Crete, we stopped for lunch in a little cafe one day and I ordered tzatziki and a Greek salad, not the most adventurous lunch, but I was amazed by how different the tzatziki there was to the slightly insipid pots you get in the supermarket in this country. It was so thick and creamy, fairly pungent with garlic, utterly delicious. Having eaten that, my main quest in making my own has been to replicate that thick creaminess. This involves dedicating a bit of time to straining everything thoroughly, nothing complicated, but it’s enough to make the difference to the end result.

Start by lining a sieve with muslin or some sturdy kitchen towels. Dollop in about 300g Greek yogurt, then wrap in the muslin, cover with a small plate or bowl and a heavy weight of some sort, so that it’s pressing down on the yogurt. Pop the sieve over a bowl and leave in the fridge for an hour or two for some of the liquid to drain out. 

Partly peel half a cucumber, cut into quarters lengthways and remove the seeds. Coarsely grate into another cloth and squeeze firmly to wring out excess water. I like a bit of peel for some colour, but not all of it.

Add the cucumber to the thick drained yogurt, along with half a clove of crushed garlic, a spritz of lemon juice, a tablespoon or two of good olive oil, a small handful of chopped mint and some salt and pepper. 

Serves two. I’d highly recommend making a big batch of this although note that the garlic flavour intensifies the longer that you keep it.

Shopping list:

300g Greek yogurt 

Half a cucumber

Small handful mint

Lemon

Half a clove of garlic

Olive oil

Sunshine tortillas

A sunny light evening makes me crave something fresh and crunchy for supper and this fits the bill perfectly. I’ve been making this a lot recently. It’s one of those things that I just threw together to use up the things in my fridge one evening and, whilst the first version was so spicy I had a pot of yoghurt on the side, it was otherwise successful, even more so now I’ve toned the chilli down.

It’s really quick to make, so an ideal alternative to an after-work stir fry and would easily adapt to whatever vegetables you have in the fridge, although I love the combination of red and orange peppers and sweetcorn, it just looks like sunshine on a plate.

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Coconut, lime and strawberry tart

coconut, lime and strawberry tart

A tropical twist on a summery strawberry tart. This looks and tastes like far more effort than it actually involves; no-one would ever believe that it was borne of series of compromises on a day where I wanted to make something, but everything seemed like too much trouble.

Sometimes I just find myself in the supermarket ambling around aimlessly, without a shopping list and without a clue what I want to cook. There were punnets of new season strawberries which made their way into my basket, but otherwise I was feeling hopelessly uninspired. Maybe I could put them in some sort of tart…no, not in the mood for making pastry…maybe with some victoria sponge and cream…no, a bit boring…. So as I drifted up and down the baking aisle, suddenly a bag of desiccated coconut caught my eye and it all fell into place.

I thought I’d experiment with using a coconut macaroon mixture instead of pastry to make a tart shell. It requires a fraction of the time and effort of making pastry, yet gives the impression of being a much more ambitious and  exotic endeavour. Combining the coconut with a zesty lime filling gives the whole thing a pleasingly tropical feel. Even the lime filling was a bit of a shortcut in the end. I had initially intended to make a lime curd with the leftover egg yolks, but again that felt like too much of an undertaking, so the egg yolks were abandoned in the fridge in favour of a simple creamy filling made from condensed milk and whipped cream instead.

Coconut shellStart by making the tart case. Preheat your oven to 150C (fan). Lightly but thoroughly grease a 20cm loose bottomed round tin. This mixture can be pretty sticky, so a good non-stick tin will help immensely. Mix together 1 1/2 cups of desiccated coconut, 2 egg whites and 1/4 cup of caster sugar. If you pick up a clump of the mixture and give it a squeeze it should clump together nicely. If it seems a bit wet add a little extra coconut. Press the coconut mixture firmly into the base and sides tin as evenly as you can. Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden and set. Leave to cool then release the edges from the side of the tin.

Meanwhile decant a 400g can of condensed milk into a mixing bowl. Add the juice and zest of 4-5 limes until the mixture has a good balance of tangy yet sweet to suit your taste. It’s very hard to know how much juice will come out of each individual lime, they can so often be disappointingly dry. I ran out of limes before I’d obtained the requisite sweet-sour balance, so ended up adding the juice of a lemon too to get the balance right.

Lightly whip 200ml double cream until it is just thick and voluptuous, forming gentle sloppy peaks. It will thicken up further once added to the citrus juice, so don’t worry about it being too runny. Stir it into the lime mixture and its done. Pour it into the cooled coconut case and put it in the fridge to chill and set for an hour or so.

imageA little while before you are ready to eat it, macerate a punnet of strawberries in the juice of half a lime and a good spoonful of caster sugar. Leave to meld for half an hour or so before tumbling them on top of the tart. As any dedicated mojito drinker knows, mint is excellent paired with lime, so a few sprigs on top bring extra flavour as well as making the whole thing look pretty.

So there you have it, a chewy, sweet coconut macaroon tart, with no more than half an hour in the kitchen.

A word on storing this – as time passes the coconut will slowly absorb some moisture from the cream and soften a little, which can make for slightly messier slices after a day or so.

Shopping list:

1.5 cups desiccated coconut (about 150g)

2 egg whites

¼ cup caster sugar + 1 tbsp

400g can condensed milk

200ml double cream

5 or 6 limes (probably best to get a couple of spares, just in case)

1 large punnet of strawberries

mint to decorate

Raspberry cream cheese blondie

raspberry cream cheese blondie

I’ve made two batches of this in the last week, that’s how much I like this recipe! I like a big tray-bake to feed a crowd, so it was the perfect choice for this weekend, when we had lots of friends over for a picnic and games on the common, now nicknamed “Tootfest!” I am lucky to have an increasing number of friends living in my local area, a wonderful little community which makes London seem less vast and makes having a gathering like this so much more achievable.

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Broad bean and mozzarella toasts

Broad bean and mozzarella toasts

I’m not one to pick favourites, but if I had to, broad beans would definitely be on my list. Their delicate, fresh green flavour is the epitome of summer to me. They have a wonderful affinity with the fresh lemon zest, fragrant basil and rich creamy buffalo mozzarella in this recipe.

Preparing broad beans is a labour of love. I always, always double-pod mine. For both flavour and aesthetic reasons, I like the bright green inner bean to be completely disrobed. Broad beans lead such a cosseted life,  enveloped in the thick, soft wadding that forms their pod; the vegetable equivalent of a cashmere blanket. The beans inside have a tough white skin which also needs to be removed. I have read many times that if you catch the beans when they are young enough, this white skin is edible, but I’ve never found it to be anything other than slightly bitter and so I remove it as a matter of course. Read more

Apricot and almond tart

apricot and almond tartI cannot resist the abundance of fruit that appears during the brief summer months. My shopping basket is crammed with punnets of nectarines, apricots, raspberries, strawberries, cherries; mostly destined to be devoured by the handful, loitering by the open fridge door.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with apricots. I’ve always found dried apricots to be a total abomination, their flavour resembling that of  shrivelled up cold teabags. And fresh apricots can seldom be caught at that perfect point of ripeness. I am often seduced by a blushing, fresh fruit only to discover that the pretty soft skin is disguising a dry and woolly interior. For me, the magic only truly happens when you cook an apricot. Suddenly they are gloriously transformed into everything you always hoped they would be – fragrant and juicy, with sweet, tender honey flavoured flesh.

Almonds are the perfect partner to so many summer fruits and apricots are no exception. The two combine beautifully in this nutty, moist tart; lovely after dinner with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or stashed in a cake tin for those mid-afternoon munchies. Read more

Caipirinha chicken, yogurt flatbreads, spicy pepper sauce, herb salad

caipririnha chicken, yogurt flatbreadsIt’s virtually impossible to ignore a certain sporting event going on in Brazil at the moment, it’s even invaded my kitchen!

I have fond food memories from my travels in Brazil. Plenty of balmy evenings were spent relaxed in a bar, enjoying the amazing array of snacks and small plates paraded around, tempting you to seize the opportunity before they pass by. Platters piled high with hot coxinhas – delicious gooey croquettes filled with chicken and cheese, pão de queijo, empadinhas, outsized skewers of grilled meats…all ready to be washed down with a cold caipirinha or two.

So back to the balmy-ish days of June in the UK, where a warm summer’s evening brings the inevitable scent of charcoal wafting on the breeze.  I find the lovely long light evenings of June just enchanting, when it is light and warm till nearly 10pm. If the temperature holds up, an evening sat outside in the garden till twilight is a rare treat.

So the combination of a long warm evening, the BBQ out and Brazil on my mind led me to dream up caipirinha chicken. I wouldn’t imagine for a second that this dish has even an inkling of Brazilian authenticity to it, but I liked it anyway. Read more

Prawn, feta and watermelon lettuce wraps

prawn, watermelon and feta wrapsA crisp, crunchy, refreshing light lunch for a hot summer’s day. This is a quick dish to assemble, so minimal risk of the sun disappearing behind a cloud whilst you are in the kitchen.

Sweet, fragrant watermelon is perfect combined with the tangy, salty flavour of feta cheese.  The addition of prawns and a chilli and lime dressing makes for a lunch bursting with flavour. And so pretty too!

I bought a pot of ready-prepared melon rather a whole fruit, although the cubes in the package were a little large for this, so I cut them down into about 1cm pieces. Mix together around 100g of watermelon cubes with about 25g feta, also cut into similar size pieces. Add around 100g ready cooked prawns. Finely slice 2 spring onions and add to the mixture. Spritz over the juice of half a lime, a whoosh of tabasco (or finely sliced red chilli if you have it) and a scant drizzle of light olive oil. A generous hand with some fresh chopped mint and coriander plus a little black pepper finishes it nicely.

prawn watermelon and feta wraps

Pile the mixture on top of little gem lettuce leaves.  Makes around 4 topped leaves which serves 1.

Shopping list: little gem lettuce, pot of watermelon chunks, small block of feta, coriander, mint, 100g prawns, lime, chilli, olive oil, spring onions.

Tomato and caramelised garlic tart

May just seemed to disappear this year, which is bit of a shame as it’s one of my favourite months, a month full of potential, the cusp of a new season. Just at the point when you can’t possibly face another root vegetable, suddenly, right on cue, bunches of English asparagus and punnets of early strawberries make their appearance, signifying the start summer, of long bright nights, barbecues in the garden and lazy sunny afternoons.

I spent most of May in California this year, which was a real foodie pleasure. I barely came across the stereotypical monstrous portions of beige food so frequently associated with eating in the US. Not to say that there wasn’t the occasional burger, but it seemed that everywhere I went the main emphasis was on farm-to-fork eating, organic and local. I was spoilt with amazing fresh seafood, juice bars, taquerias, farmers markets, delicious hot garlic fries, a handbag stuffed with peanut butter cups….not to mention a fulfilled ambition of eating at the seminal Chez Panisse.

So of all the back-to-reality post-holiday tasks I could choose, this weekend I decided to defrost the freezer! Lurking at the back, amongst the escapee fish fingers and suspect looking bags of egg white, was a packet of puff pastry, still tightly wrapped in clingfilm, which I decided to use up, rather than return to its frosty home. After a quick rummage in the fridge, I decided on this tomato and caramelised garlic tart, with added goat cheese for good measure.

My favourite part of any dish made with puff pastry is the inevitable stodgy, sticky layer that forms between the crisp, flaky top and the filling underneath. And so it is with this tart; sweet tomatoes and garlic ooze their juice into the pastry, forming a satisfyingly sticky layer of tomato soaked goo. Definitely the best bit.

Baking the tart upside down, like a french tarte tatin, makes the whole thing quick and simple, with minimal washing up. I have a nice, small 20 cm frying pan which is ovenproof, so I could cook it all in the one pan. If you don’t have an ovenproof pan of the right size and shape, no harm will come from transferring the tomato mixture into a baking tin for the oven. Read more